2009: Jake O’Connell
This guy handed the keys to Traffic Entertainment’s vaults – labels like P&P, Cold Chillin’, Enjoy, B-Boy and Chocolate Star – with the word ‘echo’ in the title. Once again, Edan’s on some other shit.
Recorded live at Touch 25 and later edited, the Liverpool LP is one of Jeck’s best. Jon Wozencroft’s aerial cover shot of a frozen lake is revealing. A slight fissure appears on the surface, with frost collecting at the faults. Drawing from some of the material on Sand, Jeck intricately clouds what was once transparent, finding beauty in the cracks. Gusts of melody spin above rhythmic foundations that sound like brisk treks through deep snow, or strolls across dried leaves. An ideal format for someone who uses vinyl as an instrument, the song “Live With Errors” reads like a statement of intent. Cassette is another logical format for Jeck and on Spool, the first Tapeworm release, he trades his turntable for a bass. The label’s motto: “kicking the shins and running away” is not something I’d normally associate with his philosophy, but a weightier darkness does pervade throughout. Limited to 250 copies, it’s no less essential than anything else he’s recorded.
Those mourning the death of Hot Snakes can now rest easy. Rick Froberg’s most straightforward record is an effortless dueling-guitar assault driven by veteran intuition and genuine hostility. The opening one-two combination “Widow of My Dreams” and “Pine On” went unmatched this year and Froberg’s biting wit shows up in spades (“Sometimes I think you get these things/ From women’s magazines”). If you’re not sold by his empathetic barking on songs like “Talking to the Dog,” it’s probably not his fault.
It’s hard keeping up with Madlib but usually worth it. These two LPs (collected on one CD) are the pinnacle of the Beat Konducta series and my favorite thing he’s put his name on since that Speto da Rua mix for Mochilla. With and an assist from J. Rocc (also an unofficial member of Jaylib), these latest volumes are dedicated to J Dilla and named after two legendary Bills (don’t front Badfoot Brown is not to be messed with). Initially the drum treatments – worthy of the honoree – are what got my attention, but it’s the soul provisions that distinguish this from being just another collection of ill samples. This is a focused effort despite the fact that none of these 40-plus beats are allowed to ever settle in. Madlib was one of Dilla’s true contemporaries and this tribute to his sound rivals any of his posthumous material.
In my ideal world they would be pop stars.
I’ve been a fan of their man-machine funk since the first singles but they really come into their own here. “No Time” and “The Station” are serious comedies – the tension of the guy/girl interplay feeling like the Android Sisters meeting their match. The lyrics to the title track (“your suicide note was a part of your thesis”) are unforgettable and the chorus opening up on “One Day” is synth-pop bliss. The only 2009 DFA release to top this was that Shit Robot single.
With that 39 Clocks compilation and Pens, De Stijl had a nice year. But Lafayette Indiana’s Haley Fohr stood out on label that stands out. Songs like “Folk II” and “Shedevil” provide a titular blueprint of what’s going on but nothing about this feels planned. “Calling Song” is what I thought Cave Rock might sound like before I actually heard it and “Paranoid” would scare the shit out of that Broadcast record. This is unbridled exploration, the shrouded strut of “Swallowing Hearts” even veers toward hip hop. The Dull Knife single is much brighter than anything here and also worth tracking down.
With the pitch of a pre-pubescent Blind Willie McTell and a swagger like he’s revisiting Highway 61, Ryan Sambol’s voice reminds me of that Silver Jews line about how all his “favorite singers couldn’t sing.” Like Dylan and Malkmus before him, Sambol understands that “there is no they” and holds an even greater distrust of the oblivious. He also sings about tipping statues, the wrong Beatle getting knocked and not reacting with appropriate faces. These four Austin Texans pull all the right moves, stick to the tasteful parts of rock’s canon and bestow wisdom beyond their years: “Being honest to yourself can be a lie to someone else.”
Audiologists by way of exhaustive programming, snd’s first album in half a decade transforms a limited digital palette into a transfixing exposition of clarity. This is invasive, persistently minimal techno, at once linear and disorienting, that uses reduction to amplify. Without the inclusion of extraneous elements, the pristine tones become the only focus. What’s most surprising is that the lack of warmth does nothing to stop this from swinging.
On an unusually stressful Manhattan morning that included just missing a train because my Metrocard ran out, then cursing at strangers for not moving to the center of the car, “People Like You … REALLY!” bombarded my headphones. Within the first few minutes I burst out laughing. Such is the power of this band.
On their fifth album, these Newark representatives continue to dissect the corrupt state of hip hop. More specifically how the culture has “lost sight of how to use these mics/ What scripts we write/ How to choose our fights.” Their course of action is to lead through example. MC Dälek’s “Street Diction” has the unflinching tunnel vision of a Thomas Jones on Sundays or the obscure Blaxploitation hero Abar. Like an evolved Bomb Squad, Oktopus wraps his Million-Man March cadence in production as layered as a Triple Fat Goose. An atypical beat technician, his complicated soundscapes soar above murky drums – like industrial emissions streaking through a sunset over Jersey swampland. This is the sound of reality sinking in, dusted with mirage-like flurries of redemption, an attempt to uplift through sheer conviction.
Literally endless boogie. His funk goes on. And on.
For Detroit, Motor City maverick Omar S followed Villalobos as the only participant to use all of his own productions. Of the two, Omar’s mix is somehow more audacious, self-indulgent and engaging. I haven’t liked a Fabric mix this much since Akufen’s meticulous masterstroke.
When I first heard this was strictly instrumental I was a little disappointed. O’Rourke’s cutting observations and unforced singing were two of Insignificance’s underrated qualities. I’ve learned to admit when I’m wrong. I wouldn’t change a thing about this gorgeous listen.
Not much I can add that I didn’t already say in my review. The word ‘classic’ gets tossed around a lot in hip hop. This is one that deserves the classification.
Other good ones:
10. The Juan MacLean - “One Day”
By Jake O'Connell